>> Breakout emo stars Remo Drive return two years after their debut LP with a new indie rock-minded release that may split the tide for both their listeners and discography alike.
If you’re even moderately into the current emo rock/punk scene, you are more than likely familiar with the breakout group, Remo Drive. They first rose to prominence in 2017 with the ironically titled debut 'Greatest Hits' that is already regarded as a classic among fans of the genre. It was an album that took tried-and-true genre conventions and executed them immaculately well. Withits own incredibly slick aesthetic style in the artwork and physical packaging, Remo Drive certainly wore their influences on their sleeve, and their personality, experiences, and sheer talent permeated through to create something that was just as solid as it was personal. So, when it came to their follow up record, two things seemed pretty likely: not only would Remo Drive have to create something that lived up to the success of 'Greatest Hits,' but they would also have to contend with the three-song-package 'Pop Music' that they released in 2018. On top of that, it seemed as if the group was going to need to evolve and elevate themselves into something that fell even deeper into their own creative playground, developing a new sound that strayed a bit further from that of Nirvana, The Smiths, Weezer, Vampire Weekend, and Jeff Rosenstock. With this brand new release of 'Natural, Everyday Degradation,' we see the boys of Remo Drive making that leap. There is certainly less of a focus on the harsher elements of Greatest Hits, and more of a trend towards bouncier, more summertime expressions. (Think less PUP and more Vampire Weekend). Previously, the softer ideas of indie rock and 90’s alt-rock were in the background, with the falsettos and symphonic solos taking a backseat to feedback and shredded vocal chords. There is a boatload of really catchy refrains and instrumental moments throughout this project, with the songwriting definitely being a lot more focused on personal, romantic relationships, and much less about an idiosyncratic point of view. There’s more of a focus on storytelling too, with songs like “Separate Beds” and “Ezra and Marla” chronicling the highs and lows of different love stories. There’s a nostalgic and retrospective slant to the lyrics as well, highlighting the way that time changes one’s relationships and life, and how all these things bend and lean on each other. This record is one that grows on you and feels more like a voyeuristic exercise in learning about another person’s experiences, rather than a vicarious experience of living another’s point of view.
The biggest issue with 'Natural, Everyday Degradation' is in its execution. It was clear the band needed to create new ground for themselves and do something completely different from previous efforts, but this is a dive in a completely wrong direction. Most things sound cleaned up for the worst, from the production to the vocals, to the instrumentation, to the lyrics. The petty, clawing aspects have been replaced with bittersweet storytelling that doesn’t scratch the same itch, and that certainly wouldn’t be a problem if the overall sound of the songs weren’t so bland. There are glimmers of hope initially with tracks like "Two Bux" and "The Grind" that have really memorable choruses and refrains, but as the choruses go on the gravy just feels thinner and thinner. If 'Greatest Hits' was mud, 'Natural, Everyday Degradation' is La Croix. Nearly all of the elements that made Remo Drive a quintessential emo band have been absolutely ripped away, and this certainly hurts them in the long run. The guitar leads areturned down way too low in the mix, and while they have fantastic bones to them they are missing all the fuzz and effect that would make them absolutely sting eardrums and heartstrings. The relatability has been completely ripped out of the instrumentation, so that on most tracks, you really can’t identify with the sounds they're producing - there’s little emotional resonance. The music isn’t bad, it really isn’t, it’s actually incredibly good... but it’s been so sanitized that all of the personality and vigor has been completely scrubbed out, to the point that it’s depressing for all the wrong reasons.
Bands playing with the balance between emo and indie rock aren’t new, and shouldn’t be discouraging in the slightest. Groups like Joyce Manor and Foxing have recently done this to their sound with great success. This makes Remo Drive’s transition all that much more painful. These are well-written songs that have seem to have been partially molded by an outside group, separatedfrom the band to tone things down in an attempt to jump into a new market. Maybe it comes from a label signing, maybe from the absence of the groups’ original drummer, or maybe from critic and fan pressure. Whatever the case, Remo Drive didn’t so much as drop the ball here as they let go of it, caught it halfway before it hit the ground, and then set it down gently. This is an incredibly talented group with really inspired instincts. They simply fell into the trap of not knowing how to follow up an initial success, and then seem fell into another by listening to new creative voices that weren’t present previously. But that’s okay. What really needs to be said is that 'Natural, Everyday Degradation' is not a bad record. It’s just not a superb Remo Drive record. And that makes it just a tad bit too disappointing. 3.2/5 <<